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Sony P800

Fido Fone a Portable Whole

If your life is so complicated that you need a separate bag in which to carry all your gadgets, the Fido telecom service provider in Canada and Sony/Ericsson may just have your answer.

It’s the Sony/Ericsson P800a, a wireless wonder that combines cell phone, PDA, digital camera and entertainment device into one unit nearly as small as the average Palm.

I refuse to let my life get so complex that I need such a device, but for people who do, this is a pretty nifty unit.

Its fully featured cell phone works pretty much as you’d expect, plus you can shoot and e-mail pictures, and even use them in the included Picture Phone book application. As a PDA, you can use the thing to track your contacts, appointments, notes, and e-mail (with attachments). You can even view documents in MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats.

The P800 also comes with Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) capability, which lets you send and/or receive pictures, sound text and even voice notes wirelessly.

And if that isn’t enough, you can play MP3 files on it (and listen to them on the included stereo earphones), 3D games (well…) and even widescreen video files (as long as you don’t mind squinting!).

Besides transferring via messaging and/or phone, files can also be sent to and from the P800 via its built in Bluetooth interface, IR port or USB.

Now that’s flexible!

The P800 looks kind of like a tiny tablet PC, or a super small Etch-a-sketch, with a largish LCD screen (in color, of course) on which you can do just about anything short of bake a cake.

Available in our area from cell phone service provider Fido for $950 Canadian ($640US from American providers), it’s definitely not a cheap item, but that isn’t really too surprising now, is it? After all, if you were to buy all this stuff separately, it would cost more and then you’d need that abovementioned bag in which to carry it all.

Anyway, Fido sent me the unit to try for a while and though it isn’t really my personal cup of tea it definitely works as advertised.

As a phone, the P800 offers all the usual stuff - though since it’s part of the all-in-one machine it’s larger than most of today’s standalone cell phones. Not excessively large as far as I'm concerned (my own cell phone is on the large size, comparatively, but I like it that way), but larger and with a shape that doesn’t fit into your hand as snugly as the average cell phone. These size and shape issues aren’t really disadvantages, but you should know about them if your idea of a good cell phone is one that’ll fold up and fit into your pocket and take up about as much room as a key fob.

But it’s a good phone, with good sound quality and it works well.

You can use it either via its touchpad color screen or with a little attachable/removable keypad. I preferred the latter method, mostly because it’s laid out like a conventional phone pad and I could use it by feel; using the LCD you lose the tactile advantage and have to rely on your eyesight, which in my case is a real challenge. Not only that, but I found that my stubby fingers would often punch the wrong “virtual button” on the LCD screen, so even though the attachable keypad’s buttons are smaller they worked better for me.

Then again, you also get a little stylus that’s built into the unit’s side and you can use it to operate the LCD screen. I was really paranoid about using it, however, because I figured the first thing that would happen is that I’d lose it. Fortunately, it’s attached quite solidly and this didn’t happen. But I was freaked out enough that I still preferred the little keypad.

Besides, when you flip it open it looks like the old flip open communicators from the original Star Trek TV series, and this adds to its niftiness factor - though of course it’s irrelevant to its functionality.

Which method of input you choose is a matter of personal choice and it’s nice that the phone/PDA/camera/whatever has given you that choice. I don’t think I would have liked the phone as much if I’d been limited strictly to the LCD screen - whereas others to whom I showed the phone thought the LCD was the cat’s pyjamas.

That’s using it as a phone. Since it’s also a PDA you’ll want to use that LCD display to track your contacts, appointments, and the like.

The screen, incidentally, gives you a resolution of 208x144 pixels with the flip keypad closed and 208x320 pixels with it open. HDTV it ain’t, but what do you expect?

The P800 comes with a disc-shaped “sync-station” that connects to your PC via USB port, and this is how you synchronize data between the P800 and the computer. I had trouble doing this, which wasn’t surprising: I’ve always had the devil of a time synchronizing these devices with my MS Outlook files, possibly because I don’t keep the Outlook files where the units expect to find them and this causes them hissy fits.

You can’t blame the Sony/Ericsson for that, however!

The company says the P800 will also interact with Lotus Notes software and you can use it to synchronize e-mail you’ve sent and/or received while on the road.

“Quick buttons” on the side of the unit give you instant access to the built in camera or fire up the bundled Web Browser. I have yet to be impressed by Web browsing on a cell phone, but to each his own.

I’ve also never been impressed with the handwriting recognition of PDA’s such as this one - but that’s more an issue of my own virtually unrecognizable scrawl. Even if I use the Graffiti-like strokes the way I’m supposed to PDA’s turn up their noses in disgust, and this one was no different. This cut down on its usefulness for note taking and the like, but people who have coordination in their writing hands will undoubtedly have a better time of it.

You’ll want to take a leisurely stroll through the thick owner’s manual, P800 at your side, when you first get it because there’s so much stuff built into this unit it can make your head spin. Just bringing up the menu listing such things as “communicam,” “audio,” “video,” “calculator,” “clock,” “online services” and the like can be a tad intimidating, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of things.

The P800 comes standard with 12 Megabytes of memory built in, plus you get a 16 Mb Memory Stick Duo you can use to store the stuff you shoot and/or download - and, if you have a Memory Stick Duo drive back at the office (or wherever), you can transfer data with it just as you would a floppy disk, saving yourself valuable and undoubtedly expensive air time.

There’s more, too, such as available accessories that offer such stuff as hands free capability, but you get the idea: this P800 beastie is a powerhouse in the world of wireless communication and definitely points the way toward where that world is heading.

Overkill? Perhaps. It certainly is for me, whose mobile needs are simple. On the other hand, while I was playing with the P800 I showed it to a number of people who literally salivated at its prospects.

So the market seems assured.

Okay, Fido, this is definitely no dog!

Fido's Web site


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January 31, 2006